OXFORD, Miss. — Alabama snapped its two-year losing streak to Ole Miss in sloppy and dramatic fashion Saturday. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban will have plenty to criticize when his team gets back to Tuscaloosa, but after escaping with a 48–43 win, at least he doesn’t have to explain away a loss.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
1. Alabama came back ... and then barely held on
The ball popped free from Alabama tailback Bo Scarbrough and for the briefest moment, a miracle seemed possible. The Tide had gone up by 18 on Jonathan Allen’s 75-yard interception return for a touchdown with 5:28 remaining. (Which was amazing in its own right because the Rebels had led by 21 at one point in the second quarter.) Ole Miss had struck back with a Chad Kelly-to-Damor’ea Stringfellow touchdown and then recovered an onside kick. On the next play, Kelly hit A.J. Brown for a 37-yard touchdown with 2:51 remaining.
With all three timeouts remaining, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze opted to kick deep instead of trying another onside kick. Alabama, which averaged 7.8 yards a carry in the second half, would try to run out the clock on the ground. After Damien Harris ripped off a 17-yard run to the Alabama 45-yard line, quarterback Jalen Hurts handed to Scarbrough on first down. Scarbrough gained four yards before he was hit. The ball floated in the air for a fraction of a second and fell, where one of Scarbrough’s teammates jumped on it. Alabama then ran out the clock on a rollercoaster victory.
“It was a great game for fans to watch,” Saban said.” It really wasn’t a great game for an old coach to suffer through.”
Saban was almost giddy after the win, cracking jokes the moment he walked into his postgame press conference. “One thing I was hoping for was a seat,” Saban said. "We’ve got players getting IVs. I don’t need an IV because they don’t make ’em like they used to.”
Later, Saban acknowledged that the Tide would have plenty to correct when they return to the practice field. Alabama probably won’t see another quarterback as good as Kelly in SEC play, but the Tide will have to clean up the mental errors that led to several coverage busts on Saturday. “There are so many lessons to be learned from this game,” Saban said. “So many opportunities to teach.”
2. Jalen Hurts showed his youth ... and plenty of maturity
Jalen Hurts looked like a true freshman when he dropped back to throw against Ole Miss. Running the ball, he looked like a veteran.
Making his second career start and his first on the road, Hurts struggled most of the day against the Rebels’ pass rush. He missed open receivers and threw some balls that would have been intercepted if some members of the Ole Miss secondary had better hands. He also did this in the second quarter…
Also in the second quarter, this happened to Hurts…
But Hurts shook off that hit from Marquis Haynes, and Alabama shook off the 21-point lead the Rebels had built midway through the second quarter. Hurts couldn’t beat Ole Miss through the air, but he could combine with Alabama’s backs to leave the Rebels’ “Land Shark” defense looking beached. Hurts, who suffered a sprained wrist in the second quarter, according to Saban, attempted only eight passes in the second half, but he did run for 94 yards on nine carries in the half. Hurts finished with 146 of Alabama’s 334 rushing yards on the day.
3. Ole Miss needs to learn how to hold a lead
Just as it did against Florida State 12 days earlier, Ole Miss blew a huge lead after it began giving back momentum late in the first half. On Sept. 5, the Rebels led the Seminoles 28–6 before a Deondre Francois-to-Travis Rudolph touchdown just before halftime gave Florida State a hint of a chance. In the second half, the Seminoles rode that swing to a 45–34 win.
On Saturday, Ole Miss had all the momentum after Marquis Haynes crushed Hurts and forced a fumble that was picked up and returned 44 yards for a touchdown by John Youngblood. But the Rebels began giving up that momentum on that play. Defensive tackle Breeland Speaks was flagged for unnecessary roughness for a block well behind the play. Then Nathan Noble kicked off out of bounds, drawing a flag. The combination of those penalties gave Alabama the ball at the 50. Three plays later, Calvin Ridley scored on a 6-yard run. After Ole Miss went three and out, Alabama’s Eddie Jackson returned Will Gleeson’s punt 53 yards for a touchdown. Alabama went into the half down 24-17 and tied the score early in the third when Ryan Anderson sacked Chad Kelly, forcing a fumble that Da’Ron Payne recovered for a touchdown.
The Rebels have an explosive offense and a ferocious pass rush, but they still must learn to hold a lead. The road doesn’t get much easier next week when Georgia comes to Oxford.